Self-care with art; A reflective essay on the necessity to nurture your creativity to feel great in your every day life
Do you feel like you never have time to do embroidery?
Maybe you watch the seemingly never-ending flow of new work from other creatives online, but it 0nly adds more pressure that you haven’t done anything…?
I get you!
I felt like that for a whole year and the comparison is a killer.
It wasn’t until becoming a mother that I fully realised how having a creative work in progress (and get to work on it a couple of minutes here an there) really has a profound impact on how I feel.
Especially on how I feel about myself.
To make art is an incredible confidence booster, because it makes you feel more creative (which if you’re a person who consider yourself as a creative… this is a necessity to feel accomplished) and more productive (which enhances satisfaction and fulfilment overall).
It fills a space in your heart where you know “I make things happen”. As a result you can also take in the images of other artworks as inspiration rather than unintended “pressure-hints”.
But how to do it then?
How to get the time to create?
For months I kept thinking “Oh if only X, then I will have the time to do Y”. But none of the scenarios ever came because there was always something new… A new obligation after X, that filled the potential space to create Y.
In the end it’s not about having more time. Because it doesn’t matter how much we visualise it – there will never be more than 24 hours in a day. We simply have to MAKE the time. And by that I mean, make the time for things that matter to you.
If creating art makes you feel great, then that is an indication that it’s an activity that you should prioritise. Because if you feel better about yourself, it will make you a better person, parent, partner, colleague, family member (you name it).
The concept of creative self-care
I sent out a newsletter a few weeks ago that many of you in the community reacted to. It was titled: Creative self-care.
The term self-care is popularly associated with various skin-care routines, a hot long bath, shopping, watching netflix or drinking “adult juice”. Personally, none of these things make me feel necessarily better. What about you?
Naturally one thing doesn’t have to exclude the other… But I have long been missing a productive as opposed to consumerist approach to the whole concept of self-care.
What if “self-caring activities” circulated around production rather than consumption?
We live in a time when most of us have or are suffering from stress and/or anxiety during different periods of time. It may be caused by the environment, your workplace, your relationship(s), maybe you just became a new parent… Whatever it may be that caused it, doesn’t make the symptoms any easier to deal with.
I genuinely think that what has kept both Charles and I sane throughout various events in life is our continuous art practise. Of course it is also our job, so I understand if it doesn’t feel as relatable if you don’t have a job where you get to create. But hear me out… To create for work and to create FOR YOU are two separate things.
To create for YOU and not for anyone else
When you create FOR YOU, you create without pressure. You can create with a sense of freedom and enjoyment of the process rather than caring about the final result. Especially ignore thoughts like; will this look good enough to be shared/sold/or turned into a pattern etc.
Are you a blocked artist?
In the book “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron, she talks about several examples of “blocked artists”. A blocked artist is a creative person who followed someone else’s idea of what they should do rather than their own.
This doesn’t mean that you have to make art your full-time gig. Not at all. Because it may not be what will make you feel better. It simply refers to the idea that you need to prioritise time for creative activities.
Maybe you read this and think to yourself that you are also a creative person… and then you think a little further and realise you actually haven’t moved some art supplies in weeks, maybe months. How do you feel about it?
Creative self-care is about nurturing the emotional side of your being. And YOU deserve to feel great!
There is an influencer in the north of Sweden that talks a lot about preventative self-care. For her it’s baking and having “fika” with friends. Fika is a Swedish word that refers to the action of taking a break with coffee, cake and some company (hopefully good company). She hit the wall a couple of years ago due to over-working (very relatable!), and she has since implemented a mindset of 80/20.
This means that she tries to limit her work efforts so that she has 20% energy left for recreational activities that makes her body and mind rest. By taking these continuous mini-breaks she is able to keep her health in order before hitting the breaking point of not being able to do anything at all.
It may be baking for her in the same way it’s art and embroidery for us. In other words, you will most likely feel greater positive effects by embroidering 5 minutes every evening rather than an entire day ones a year.
It’s the small actions that counts
The best thing about embroidery compared to many other art forms, is that you can practically make only one stitch a day and you have still made progress.
For example, when I started Instagram in September 2016, I decided to make it my daily goal: One stitch a day regardless of how much I had on my plate.
At the time I was a student at 125% (I overloaded courses…) and worked extra as a nanny during the week to pay for the rent. It sometimes felt impossible, but by setting a small and manageable goal, I was able to keep it for a very long time (took about 2 years before I broke it). And I thoroughly believe that this seemingly small action of one stitch a day is what greatly contributed to my artistic growth (both personally and professionally).
This is what happened:
- To keep my goal made me feel confident in myself that I am someone who keeps my promises
- It made me advance on my work quicker, which lead to continuous artistic growth and greater personal fulfilment and satisfaction
- With daily advancements it meant I also had almost daily new images to share for social media and grow my audience… (now this last one may not apply to you, but the principle of keeping your promises still does!)
There is an expression in Swedish: “Rom byggdes inte på en dag”, which means “Rome wasn’t built in one day”. I’m sure you have this expression in every language… And there’s so much truth to it.
If you want to build a creative habit or reach a certain goal, it’s the small efforts and actions that will have the greatest impact in the long-run.
Before you know it, if you just keep your mind focused on the small action (rather than getting overwhelmed with the big goal), you will arrive sooner than you think.
How to create a habit of creative self-care?
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, write about a concept of habit stacking. In short it refers to an easy strategy to implement desired new habits in you daily life.
As the terms reveal, it’s about identifying habits that you already have and attach the new habit to it. For example, after the dinner you always clean up the dishes. So, you can then choose to stack the habit of “one stitch a day”, to be performed right after finishing up with the dishes as your daily reward.
I used this example because it’s actually how I started to implement the habit myself. To stack a new desired habit to one that is already solidified helps you to remember to actually do it.
Because sometimes we have the intention to do something, but suddenly the whole day has passed and nothing happened. Furthermore, to intentionally decide the set-up for the stacking strategy, you also designate a time in your day for when you can do your stitch.
In other words, you MAKE THE TIME to do what matters to you! And that is to take care of your creative side of your being.
You’re not alone
In preparation for this essay I spoke to Becky, a dear member of our Academy Membership. I asked her: “How does it make you feel to create art and how do you feel when you miss out on creating?”. Her responses mirrors my feelings (+ many of the reflections in this essay), so I want to share them with you upon her approval as I think you will resonate with it too.
These are her answers:
Hi again Elin,
I find that when I am making art (sewing, embroidering, quilting), I feel an overwhelming sense of calm and peace. It is a mesmeric immersion I can privately enjoy.
I feel so much joy as I push myself to express my individual spin on things, even if I am following a pattern. I’m also able push down all the thoughts running through my brain, and I find time flies by and I feel at peace.
To me, creating with embroidery specifically is very calming. There is a flow with the process that reduces any stress and it centers me.
I have also come to realize that the sense of accomplishment boosts my mood. I’m certain it has benefits such as improving our immune system. How could it not? Focusing on one thing relieves one from the pressure of multitasking.
What I miss when I don’t create…
In terms of what I miss out on when I am not creating, I miss out on that feeling of accomplishment, and the calmness and focus.
I feel anxious and a little frustrated when interruptions happen that force me to abandon my plans for creating. It is not to say that there are not times when I don’t get stressed when creating art. I make mistakes. Then I need to stop and learn something new to be able to complete a project, etc. But it is still joyful and that is why I try and make time every day to be creative.
I do not have an art degree. Actually, I really didn’t start learning quilt making and embroidery until about 8-10 years ago. My Mom taught me how to sew, but as an adult I focused on my career (not in art).
The creative side of my brain was neglected for so long. So here I am, getting ready to retire at the end of the year and wanting to create for myself. Not to become an artist, but to create just for the enjoyment. I feel so fortunate to have online access to brilliant artists and teaches like you and Charles from thousands of miles away.
Please keep up the fabulous work you two do. Everything you two create resonates with me, probably because my first passion is travel. Your patterns from around the world are fantastic. I am trying to work my way thought the patterns in your book.
If art makes you feel great too… we created something for you!
Recently Charles and I decided to make a big turn-over of the Charles and Elin Academy. Instead of focusing on single courses, we turned our course platform into the Academy membership.
This means that you can now access ALL courses in one place with a smaller monthly instalment instead of a bigger expense independently for every single course.
WHY did we do this?
You find the answers throughout this essay. The reason is to encourage and support you to make art a habit of creative self-care. With continuous content updates such as new courses and livestreams you will be held accountable to your own creative promises to yourself.
By joining the membership, you tell yourself that your creative well-being matters. And that you want to prioritise it on a regular basis as opposed to having a creative splurge ones a year. See it as an investment in yourself just like you would with a gym card! Just that this is better than a gym card… at least for us creative art nerds haha!
There is no one size fits all when it comes to feeling good. What works for one person doesn’t for another and so on. So the only thing you can do, is to listen to yourself and try to recognise how you feel in different moments. What makes you feel happy? Inspired? Relaxed?
We invite you to come and check out the Academy Membership and join Becky and us!
Some more feedback from the community in response to this article:
Hi Elin!I read your article, and it was so therapeutic. It spoke to me and confirmed what I have already implemented for myself these past few months in carving out time for my creativity. I also related to Becky’s email on the feeling she gets from embroidering.I have been creating with my hands since a very young girl from drawing, writing, yarn crafts, and recently embroidery. I’m now 56; I don’t feel 100 percent myself if I don’t create something. It centers me and I love making for my family and friends, and people in need.Knowing that you poured your love into creating something for that one individual and the look on their face in them knowing you made it just for them that’s an extra gratification you can’t get from anything else.Something new that I learned from you that I would tweak for my creative self-care is to include “stacking habits” I love this concept! Thank you for sharing with the community.I am so happy to be a part of this Academy and new community.Denise Rumph
This is what Deb says:
Oh my, your essay really resonated with me and how I feel about creating. For as long as I can remember I was creative and worked at it every day.
When I went back to work after my children were born my job required endless hours, sometimes I brought work home and worked until 10 at night. I felt like a zombie, not like myself.
And I realized I was beyond stressed and needed to force myself to focus on doing something creative to feel like me again. I could then relax my mind and also create a beautiful object.
The time that I found was at the end of the day, after dinner was finished and cleaned up, then I bring out my projects and work on them.
It is the best feeling to watch something grow in your hands, something with color and life and detail. The peace and enjoyment that comes with creating is the reward. Even if the phone rings and I am working on something I put it on speaker and continue doing what I love.
Thank you for putting into words what I think many of us feel in our modern and ultra-busy society. The constant pressure to stay connected to the outside world is draining. I view it like this, we start the day as a full pitcher, then slowly we pour ourselves out to the world and at the end of the day we need refilling. Creating every day is essential in my opinion to good mental health for everyone.
Cheers to you and your family! I wish all good things for you in 2022!!
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